Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people express disillusionment with voting, and I don’t blame them. With all that we hear about gridlock in government, the bad economy and the extreme slow pace of change, it seems like voting doesn’t make any difference. In spite of that, I do think voting matters. The Founding Fathers, the various women’s suffragists, civil rights workers, and the many activists risked their lives for our right to vote. I’m a Democrat, but I think Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party members, everyone should go vote and express their opinions. I think if you’re a true American, you’d want all American to vote, whether they agree with you or not.
Many of my friends have expressed specific disappointment at President Obama. During the 2008 elections, Obama talked a lot about making change and he’s made specific promises to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military, to pass a good immigration law, to pass a climate control bill. Since these things haven’t come to pass, many have lost hope in Obama’s ability to bring change. I sympathize with their view, but I also sympathize with Obama. I’m critical of Obama in certain areas, but I do think Obama has accomplished a lot and continue to support him. One of Obama’s big mistakes is that he allowed the Tea Party to control the terms of the debate during the health care reform debate last year. The length and contentiousness of the health care reform debate seemed to suck the air out of the Obama initiatives on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, climate control and immigration reform.
I’m a lifelong Democrat and I’ll stick with the Democrats through good times and bad. Though I’m critical of a lot of things the Democrats do, most of my values and political beliefs align a lot more closely to the Democrats than the Republicans. I started getting depressed at some of those polls saying that the Republicans would win back Congress, so I decided to volunteer to phonebank for the Democrats in their headquarters in Palo Alto, California. It was nice to see and to listen to a dedicated group of people who care about this nation and decided to get involved. If the Republicans win, I’ll congratulate my Republican friends and hope there are some issues that Obama and the Republicans can work on. But I’ll still fight for the causes that I believe. I added photos of some of the phone bankers to this blog.
In the March 2009 issue of the Progressive, Howard Zinn made a point about how voting is just one part of a citizen’s duty to democracy. No matter who is in government, an active citizenry is needed to participate in protests and building mass movements to enact progressive goals like immigration reform, climate control and gay rights.
I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes- the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.
But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhoods, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on maters of war and social justice.
Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.
Here is a quote of radical poet Amiri Baraka from a 1982 interview in the book Conversations with Amiri Baraka edited by Charlie Reilly. Though Amiri was referring to the 1980 elections, I think it also applies to all elections. Baraka was asked if revolutionary change could come through the polls or legislation. Baraka felt that voting is an important tool, but not the only tool, in empowering people and enacting social change. Baraka said in the interview:
“To me, the use of electoral politics is only a tactic. I mean I think it does have to be utilized, because I think if you don’t utilize it, you will find yourself in a position where you’re backed up against the ovens, you know; and then the only thing you can do is fight for your life. I mean quite literally. Like people are talking about now they want to repeal the Voting Rights Act. They came on with an editorial on Channel 11, WPIX, “Repeal the Voting Rights Act.” Now, if you sit still and say, “Well, we can’t fight against that, because, finally, voting is not going to change monopoly capitalism”… and it’s not. I don’t think, in the end, anything other than… short of armed revolution will change this system of monopoly capitalism and end racism and women’s oppressions. But for you to sit quietly and let them wipe out the Voting Rights Act is just bizarre. For you not to fight for every kind of democratic right, inch by inch- you know what i mean, like they say, fight for every inch- is mad. It’s like, I was very critical of a lot of people on the Left in the recent election, because their line was, “Carter and Reagan are exactly the same.” Well, look, they represent the same class, but there are different sectors of that class, and they are not identical, you see, as you now found out. Here’s a man now talking about getting rid of Social Security… you can’t say that’s the same as Jimmy Carter. So I think that those kind of sweeping, Leftist, ultra-revolutionary statements serve to do nothing but fog up the reality that you have to fight for every inch. Yes, you have to utilize voting. Absolutely you have to utilize it. People died in the South to get the right to vote, and then you’re going to tell people, “Don’t vote. It doesn’t mean anything.” That’s bizarre. The question is, what does it mean? It has a limited and specific meaning, but it has to be utilized.”
My last quote is from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Waring on March 23, 1801:
In every country where man is free to think and to speak, differences of opinion will arise from differences of perception and the imperfection of reason; but these differences, when permitted, as in this happy country, to purify themselves by free discussion, are but as passing clouds overspreading our land transiently and leaving our horizon more bright and serene. That love of order and obedience to the laws, which so remarkably characterize the citizens of the United States, are sure pledges of internal tranquility; and the elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations go subvert a Constitution dictated by the wisdom and resting on the will of the people. That will is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.
A youtube video of women suffragists being jailed in 1917 for protesting the right to vote.
A youtube video of Freedom Summer in 1964 in Mississippi where civil rights activists try to register African Americans to vote